More ‘We Can’t Wait’ events due this week

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The White House is scheduling a few more “We Can’t Wait” PR events this week, some 51 weeks before millions of Americans rush to the polls in November 2012.

The announcement was tweeted out Sunday night by Dan Pfeiffer, the White House’s communications chief. But he offered no details of the promised events. “The We Can’t Wait initiatives won’t wait for President Obama to return from abroad. We have some announcements coming this week,” he tweeted.

This week, the president is taking a scenic tour of diplomatic meetings in Hawaii, Australia and Indonesia. Officials have downplayed expectations of any significant deals or breakthroughs, but the tour is expected to produce many images for use in Obama’s campaign ads.

The “We Can’t Wait” PR campaign magnifies regulatory and rule changes within the administration to portray the president as an energetic leader who is working hard on behalf of Americans, and to portray Republicans as partisan hacks who are eager to block government action.

The White House adopted this strategy after the president failed in August to win a so-called “grand bargain” on deficits that would have pleased swing-voting independents in swing-voting states, such as Colorado and North Carolina.

The PR strategy also complements Obama’s repeated calls for Congress to pass his proposed $446 billion, one-year deficit-funded stimulus, also known as the American Jobs Act.

So far, the “We Can’t Wait” campaign has offered modest short-term benefits to Americans, although it has garnered generally favorable coverage from the establishment press, and increased a few long-term financial risks.

For example, Obama modestly and temporarily reduced future interest-payments that will be paid by current students on government-owned loans, he changed mortgage rules to lower rates on people with government-backed mortgages and he set up a new website to help veterans find jobs in an economy where the unemployment rate is above 9 percent.

These measures are limited because the president cannot make new laws without a bill being approved by Congress. For example, the student-loan decision does not significantly help existing graduates who owe large loans, even if they are unemployed.

However, these measures may prove very expensive.

For example, the student loan decision would forgive student-loans of those who work for a decade teaching or doing certain kinds of political activism, for instance. If that decision remains, many graduates may walk away from their loans in 2021, ensuring heavy losses to federal student-loans programs.

Similarly, the changes in mortgage rates also increase long-term financial risks to the taxpayers who ultimately fund federally-backed mortgages.

Also, at least one of the president’s “We Can’t Wait” measures was actually mandated by Congress in 2007. On Nov. 8, Obama flew to Philadelphia to announce new rules that measure the effectiveness of Head Start operators. But those tests are required under a 2007 law signed by President George W. Bush.

Some of Obama’s “We Can’t Wait” events also pre-empt congressional action. For example, Obama announced Nov. 9 that he was ordering a 25 percent cut in federal spending on civil servants’ travel and on conferences. But Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, is pushing for a 75 percent cut in such spending, amid opposition from Democratic senators.

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